Metro safety audit finds new problems that need addressing

Metro has 30 days to come up with plans to address four new recommendations from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission after its newest safety audit was released Wednesday.

In 2015, problems with the equipment that power Metro’s trains through the system led to a fire that ultimately claimed the life of a passenger stuck in a train on the Green Line. The maintenance and oversight of those systems is much better; however, in some cases, equipment that’s used to help power those systems is still outdated and past its prime.

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Sometimes, these are switches and relays in “back rooms” that passengers don’t directly see while they’re on a train. They’re not the parts that could catch fire and lead to smoke incidents that Metro has seen before.

However, “if those fail and they’re not addressed properly because either they’re beyond their useful life or they’re not maintained, that could lead to things like trains stranded in tunnels,” said Max Smith, who is with the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.

He said an example of that happened last year left a Green Line train stranded in a tunnel near the Fort Totten stop.

“That led to an extended period where people were stuck on a train, it led to a need to evacuate on to the roadway, which you always want to avoid,” Smith said. “And in that evacuation, the Metro Transit Police Department didn’t follow all the required safety procedures.”

Not taking care of those issues can lead to other problems further down the line, Smith explained.

The new report also found that Metro isn’t documenting all the maintenance inspections it’s required to perform, nor does it always comply with its own safety and approval certifications before installing and activating new traction power systems in place.

“When you’re putting in a new system, it needs to be checked, it needs to have all the safety approvals before it gets activated. This audit identified that Metrorail was not doing that for power systems,” Smith said. It’s a problem he said has been identified before, too.

Along the same lines, maintenance workers weren’t always properly trained on the new equipment they were working with.

“Traction power equipment is very complicated and there might be several different brands or makes or models of certain types of equipment in different parts of the system,” said Smith, who noted that as Metrorail evolves and gets updated, it’s natural that new and different equipment might get used. “The thing is that when you don’t have training on that particular type of, say, transformer, then you might not know exactly what to do or what not to do.”

Metro will now get 30 days to submit a plan to remedy the situations, though in some cases the complex nature of the problems could easily take far longer to actually implement.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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